The Art of Stillness...
First Sol Quest...
Who in their right mind would choose to extract themselves into the extremes of the desert for a retreat of non-movement, no food and no distractions for 4 days and 3 nights to experience the raw truth of the authentic self? Sign me up! Talking about what may hypothetically happen out there compared to reaching the edge of the breaking point and passing through delirium to the other side--two perspectives from opposing worlds--the stages of discomfort being the key element missing from the hypothetical version. I have always walked the path less traveled. My quest was to let go of all identity, agenda, distortion, story, projection, ritual, ambition, fear, angst, struggle, chaos, confusion and embrace the mysterious stillness that seemed to eluded me. Anyone that knows me well knows that sitting still has never been my strong point, movement being a constant companion in my life. Fasting also gave me an uneasy feeling as I had not ventured into this realm of the unknown. The more tests the merrier, right? With rain in the forecast, it topped my list of potential discomfort for being cold and wet with no exit in sight. Oh yes, right, I volunteered myself into this process of refinement to become one with the desert--a communion that would change my life forever.
How does one prepare for such a feat? I had the help of two mentors--a traditional medicine man and a veteran of a traditional vision quest. My medicine friend reminded me to communicate with the natural order: the plant, mineral and animal kingdoms to create a protected space, and ask for assistance of Mother Life with the process; my intentions setting the tone.
My veteran friend held me accountable to check in with her with by marking an agreed tree daily to signal my well being and take a food bar with me "just in case" with a mandatory lemon (my saving grace) for trace minerals. My independent spirit resisted both requirements as they took me out of my comfort zone. One, the discipline to not eat what was available in a moment of weakness; two, the idea of burdening someone with my process--I witnessed my mind reel at my dependency for the "gate-keeper". Ultimately, both tasks were catalysts to break me wide open to receive my "vision" for which I am beyond grateful.
After getting dropped off and finding a safe water crossing with the recently rain-swelled creek, I entered the desert to find out what I was capable of and who I was beyond what I knew to be true about myself. It was a miracle to have my schedule open up the time to experience such a quest, and as usual I jumped in with both feet. Being alone in the desert did not scare me, stillness on the other hand was my greatest known challenge. Little did I know there was something more obscure waiting for me around the corner.
I had set up a tarp tent in the past and with the looming storm, I knew I had to be in a good spot for drainage and have my corners secure. I was pretty proud of what I had accomplished and quickly got into my nest shortly after sundown. To be truthful, that night the wind whipped through the desert and made a noise that I have never heard before. The swirling force from every angle tested my lines, slapped the tarp into my face repeatedly, and continued to carve out the petrified canyon walls. Then came the droplets pinging my taught shelter, later becoming a complete deluge. I will spare you the details of my sleepless night where most of my belongings got wet. I woke to the sound of the ravens feeding their young, the signal of the dawn--a new day. The sun came out and I was able to dry all of my wetness.
As I warmed up, the chatter in my mind was endless. To be truthful it was daunting to think of three more days out there with nothing to do. It seemed like it would be an eternity with no food, input, or outlet. My mind drifted to my future schedule and projects. Giving them voice I was eventually able to let them go. Then, my mind recounted all of my trespasses and less than ideal decisions made throughout my life; again another opportunity to let go. This process took most of the day with a pause to tie a signal line to the prescribed tree of well being about a half a mile away. I was beginning to get weak from the not taking in any calories and had to rest along the way. This was the day for stripping my old identity to discover what lay under the constant hum of my mind and body. There was no escape from "me". I sat and melted into the rocks surrounding me. The sun came and went, more wind, more rain. Another sleepless night.
On the third morning I woke up with the birds again and began my trek to the check-in spot because my friend was going to come early that day. I was very light headed and was grateful to have my walking stick to steady my steps. I also made a water run to the river I had crossed at the beginning of my adventure and refill all of my containers. Staying hydrated with iodine filtered water was near impossible, the taste was beyond delightful. This is where the lemon came in handy, which I rationed between the last two days to take the edge off the taste.
This is when the bar started to mess with my head. If I only had a nibble it wouldn't be so bad, it wouldn't be a fail if I just had a taste. My mind was fighting the fast and my body was weakening while I drifted in and out of consciousness. The battle of will was on, an enemy I knew I'd have to face, me--the ultimate test. To take my mind off not eating, and the iodine taste in my mouth that lingered; I harvested a Mormon tea branch, chewed on it, and fell asleep. I made it through my breaking point and found the pit of my weakness--hunger. Discipline, focus, perseverance, resilience, tenacity, endurance, these were all words I could not relate to at the time, but now know the depths of their meaning.
The sun was hot this day. Note to self: Nude sunbathing is not recommended! Again, after sunset, quick to bed; tender from the sunburn and in a foodless daze . I asked all of existence to facilitate a vision and cozied up for my last evening in the desert, ready to receive what existed on the other side of waking consciousness.
The ravens with their routine, signaled my final day on my Sol Quest. Before I woke up I heard these words: "The art of stillness overcomes all. Stillness neutralizes an obstacle, the fight, the struggle, an upset, quick reaction and response. Embrace the pause. Practice stillness above all else." The desert spoke to me in my in-between state. I heard the message clearly and ingested the wisdom.
I was delirious to say the least. I laid in the sun to warm up and drifted, returned to camp to change into my day clothes and drifted some more. Packed up my pack, drifted. Took down the tarp, rolled up my sleeping pad and emergency blanket, drifted r more. I sought shade, drank water, consumed my lemon wedge, chewed a Mormon tea sprig, and drifted. Buried my intentions, drifted. Put on shoes, drifted. By this time it was around three and my ride was coming at six thirty. I decided it would be best to start my way back to the signal tree and rest along the way. With my pack on and off my back, it took hours to make it. A little rock crack shade, drift. Tree shade, drift. Finally I made it to our well being tree and recollected my life lines.
With another rest by the creek, and eventually finding my crossing place, I had to remove my shoes, cross, then reapply--taking at least an hour. Every little task took everything I had. My feet on the road, I hoped that I wouldn't have to cross paths with anyone. I had realized I had not uttered a word in 3 days, and I really did not want to have to explain what I was doing out there in the state I was in. All of my masks had been removed within the desert wild. Here I was, the raw, authentic version of myself--no story, a survivor.
I knew my friend would be arriving soon with some food... my salvation or at least so I thought. I kept one foot in front of the next at a slow pace and kept my gaze down so the sun stayed off my face. When I looked up, my friend drove down the hill I was about to take on. Saved! She handed me an aloe juice, avocado and Braggs Liquid Aminos. We said very little, she knew where I was. She gave me space to enjoy breaking my fast, I was surprised I was full after half of the avocado and ready to re-enter society.
Five days later, this experience continues to unravel. I jumped back into the fast paced world where technology, jobs, schedules, projects, food, movement, friends, events, bills, exchanges on all levels all meet me full force. Re-settling into my new sense of self has been a learning process, as much as my time out in the desert. Revitalizing my body has also been an interesting part of re-entry as well. The first craving I had to satisfy was the PB & J fantasy that kept me up at night. Stillness continues to be my new baseline within the flow of movement. More will be revealed... Who is ready for a Sol Quest? Ha!
PS. The non-movement Sol Journey Retreat will not be as extreme as I experienced. I had to know the edge so I would know how far I could go. There will be a happy medium somewhere along the way for willing participants. This will be the first of many for me, this I know.
Alicia Wright is a creative artist and loves to explore the depth of her character within the wild.